A major human rights group released a report yesterday outlining the continued violence and instability in Afghanistan. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, entitled “All Our Hopes Are Crushed: Violence and Repression in Western Afghanistan,” urges the expansion of the international peacekeeping forces (ISAF) in Afghanistan beyond the capitol of Kabul and into regional centers like Herat. The 51-page report focuses on human rights violations in the western province of Herat, stating that its regional ruler, Ismail Khan, has created a mini-state in which fear and violence dominate people’s everyday lives. HRW also called on international donors to send aid through the national government or non-governmental organizations rather than through Ismail Khan or his government.
The report describes Khan’s rule as medieval, stating that “women and girls continue to suffer extreme forms of discrimination, including many Taliban-era practices.” The climate of fear of Khan’s rule prohibits women from meeting with men in public, and even prevents university students from openly discussing their view on politics. A detailed HRW report focused on women’s rights in Herat will be issued shortly. The Feminist Majority Foundation has heard reports that among other restrictions Khan has placed on women in Herat is a prohibition on their right to work for foreign non-governmental organizations.
HRW is highly critical of US support of Afghan warlord Ismail Khan, whom the group has labeled an “enemy of human rights.” HRW urges the US to use its influence to take on a peacekeeping role in the region to help protect Afghans who are most vulnerable to violence. According to John Sifton, a researcher in the Asia Division at HRW, “the international community says it wants to reduce the power of the warlords and bring law and order back to Afghanistan. But in Herat, it has done exactly the opposite. The friend of the international community in Western Afghanistan is an enemy of human rights.” According to the HRW press release, there are signs that the US is starting to reconsider its stance on the expansion on ISAF due to its recognition that entrusting security to the warlords can create more instability.
Afghan women have indicated that security is their top priority, and President Karzai, US Army General Tommy Franks, and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan have indicated that lack of security is the most serious problem facing Afghanistan. Threats to Loya Jirga delegates who have spoken out for human rights, including Minister of Women’s Affairs Dr. Sima Samar; the assassination of two government ministers; violence against women in the Northern provinces; violence against humanitarian aid workers; the attempted assassination of President Hamid Karzai in Kandahar; and the continued use of tactics of intimidation against the return of girls to school show that the need for expansion of peace keeping forces both within and beyond Kabul is desperate.